Split in Israeli-Arab parliamentary bloc could prove costly

Special Split in Israeli-Arab parliamentary bloc could prove costly
An Israeli border policeman walks past campaign posters for the Joint List and the United Arab List in the Bedouin town of Rahat near the southern Israeli city of Beersheba on March 7, 2021, ahead of the legislative election. (AFP)
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Updated 09 March 2021

Split in Israeli-Arab parliamentary bloc could prove costly

Split in Israeli-Arab parliamentary bloc could prove costly
  • It is predicted the Joint List will lose up to six of its MPs after the United Arab List left the group over political and social disagreements
  • It comes almost a year after the alliance won 15 seats in the Knesset, which was a record high for an Arab political bloc

ATLANTA: With only two weeks to go until parliamentary elections in Israel, a recent split within the ranks of the Joint List, the bloc that represents most of the country’s 1.5 million Palestinian citizens, threatens to diminish its political power.

The United Arab List (UAL), also known as the Southern Branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, withdrew from the four-party alliance in February over disagreements about political and social issues. The remaining members are the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality, the Arab Movement for Renewal, and the National Democratic Alliance (Balad).

In the previous election, in March last year, the Joint List won 15 seats in the Knesset, a record high for an Arab political bloc. Analysts predict that as a result of the split it will will lose five or six of those seats in the next parliament.

UAL leaders said the conflict with the Joint List is a result of its decision to support Benny Gantz, the leader of the Blue and White coalition, in his efforts to form a government with Arab political support after last year’s elections.

Instead of forming his own government with the support of the Joint List as agreed, Gantz instead decided to form a joint government with right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Palestinian community viewed this as both a rebuke and a betrayal of the Arab parties that had supported his bid to become prime minister.

However Jamal Zahalka, a former member of parliament and former leader of Balad, said the cause of the rift was the refusal of UAL leader Mansour Abbas to abide by a collective Joint List decision to cast a vote to dissolve the Knesset, which paved the way for this month’s election.

“Abbas floated the possibility that he might swing his vote in either direction of the Israeli political parties in exchange for economic benefits for the Palestinian communities,” Zahalka told Arab News.

“Palestinian political parties, given their marginalized status, should not engage in such political bargains that could weaken them in the long run.”

Ibrahim Hijazi, the UAL’s secretary-general, told the Arab News that the party was effectively “pushed out” of the Joint List because of its desire to be more politically independent.

He said there is no significant difference between the Israeli political right or left when it comes to issues such as the racist treatment of Palestinian citizens of Israel, ending the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, and the building of illegal Israeli settlements.

“All shades of the Israeli government are inherently anti-Arab racists,” he said. Therefore Palestinian Arabs should not align themselves with the Israeli left as the Joint List has, he added, which was a major point of contention with the bloc.

The Joint List’s record of voting for laws that support the LGBTQ community in Israel was another cause of disagreements, Hijazi said, because such laws are not in line with the social values of Arab communities in Israel.

He added that his party has forged alliances with a number of community leaders across the country and he expects it to win between four and six seats in this month’s elections.

Palestinian historian Mahmoud Yazbak, a professor of Palestinian History at the University of Haifa, agreed with Hijazi that since 1948 successive Israeli governments have implemented racist policies designed to politically disenfranchise and marginalize Palestinians.

“As a result, the Arab Palestinian parties inside Israel have been operating on the periphery of the Israeli political system without real power,” he said. The historic electoral success of the Joint List in March last year gave it the ability to tip the balance of power for the party seeking to form the government, he added.

To capitalize on this new-found political clout, “the Joint List’s main goal was to topple Netanyahu from power because he is the most anti-Arab racist of Israeli prime ministers,” said Yazbak.

Israeli governments have deliberately neglected the Palestinian community socially, politically and economically, he added. The proliferation of organized crime and the high rate of murders in Palestinian communities is a deliberate result of Israeli policies that aim to dismantle the political and social cohesiveness of Palestinians in Israel.

“Successive Israeli governments for the past 20 years have tacitly encouraged gang members, drug dealers and Mafia-style criminal activities in Palestinian areas,” he said.